Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! - Ruth 4:14 (ESV)
The Book of Ruth is a short story written during the time of the judges of Israel. This was before there was a king. The passage cited above forms part of the last few sentences of the book which reveals that the child born to Naomi's daughter-in-law Ruth would become the grandfather of King David. This ending functions as a significant reveal that adds new layers to every aspect of the story that came before. Although the story has already reached its climax and this ending is part of the denouement, any reader informed on the identity of David would find this ending to be a particularly delightful way to end the story.
An Outline of Ruth
Chapter 1 sets up the story's conflict. An Israelite woman named Naomi left Israel with her husband and two sons due to famine. Her sons married foreign women before dying along with Naomi's husband. Naomi returns to Israel. She tries to dissuade her daughters-in-law from coming. One returns home and the other refused to leave Naomi. The woman who refused to turn back is named Ruth, which means, "friendship".
Chapter 2 takes the setup from chapter 1 and develops it further. Ruth goes out to work in the fields and "just happens" to work in the field belonging to Boaz, a man of Naomi's own kin (Ruth 2:3). Boaz asks about her and invites her to remain close to the other young women who were working. He also invites her to eat with the reapers, which she does. Ruth is overwhelmed at his kindness to her since she is a foreigner (Ruth 2:10). Naomi praises the Lord upon hearing how Ruth fared, and she urges Ruth to keep working the same area because it is safe.
Chapter 3 is about Ruth's proposal of marriage to Boaz. It is a fascinating part of the story. Ruth, a Moabite widow of an Israelite man, is advised by her mother-in-law to go and lie down at Boaz's feet and then let him tell her what to do (Ruth 3:4). When Boaz awakes in the middle of the night to find a woman at his feet, he is understandably startled (Ruth 4:8). When asked, Ruth forthrightly asks him to redeem her according to the Law of the kinsman redeemer (cf. Gen. 38:8; Deut 25:5-10). Boaz praises her for her request and assures her he will follow through.
Chapter 4 draws the story to a kind of double conclusion, one side of which we saw at the beginning of this article. The story ends simply enough. Boaz follows due process according to Israelite law to procure Ruth as his lawful wife. There is an extra bit of tension when a relative with a closer claim to Ruth says he wishes to take his kinsman's property. But Boaz mentions that a wife comes with their kinsman's property. He backs down in order not to jeopardize his own inheritance. The day is saved. Ruth marries Boaz, they have children, and the story's final scene pictures Naomi sitting with her grandson on her lap.
Except that this is not the end. The book ends with, of all things, a genealogy. But the genealogy shows that Ruth's great-grandson would be none other than King David.
The Benefits of Ruth
One of the first things we might note for our own benefit is the providence of God. God's providence is understood to be the manner in which God works to provide and care for his people in the world. God's providence is his divine intervention in the world to guide his people and promote his purposes in the world.
Perhaps the clearest place in which God's providence is on display is in Ruth "just happening" to work in Boaz's field. This was no accident or mere product of circumstance. God was guiding Ruth like he guides us.
This leads us to a consideration of Naomi. A good argument could be made for the book to be named after Naomi rather than Ruth. This is not to diminish Ruth's role in the story. But the story begins with Naomi and ends with Naomi. She is more than just the setup for Ruth, who is more than just the setup for Obed her son.
Naomi is an Israelite woman who left with a husband and sons and returned with one foreign woman. Naomi asks people to start calling her, "bitter" (Ruth 1:20). She is convinced that Yahweh is treating her poorly for reasons she could not know.
But Yahweh had not forsaken Naomi. Yahweh never forsakes any of his people. Naomi could not see it, but Yahweh had sent her to Moab to collect the great-grandmother of the future king of Israel. If Naomi could have seen what the Almighty was doing, surely she would have had a different reaction.
Surely the same could be said of us. Many times, we fail to trust God. Things seem to be going off the rails. There seems to be no good in our future. And sometimes it is true that we bring those difficult things on ourselves.
But of all the lessons we can take from Ruth, one should be that we should not make Naomi's mistake of giving up all for lost only when we can't see how things will work out. Naomi could scarcely imagine what Yahweh was up to with her. Naomi had real hardship. Her husband and sons died.
Nevertheless, things had not gone off the rails. Yahweh's providential hand was guiding things to their intended purpose. Despite all Naomi's troubles, I doubt she would have wanted people to call her "bitter" if she could have seen how the story ended.
For Christians today, we are much clearer on how our stories end than Naomi. The promises are clearer than what Naomi had. The Christ has come. And we know much better for what God is preparing us. As we go through hard times, we need never fear that Yahweh is simply dealing bitterly with us. He loves us and cares for us, and he knows the number of our days. Even when we do not like how they are going, we can trust that every one of our bad days is part of his good plan. And with that we can remain contented and hopeful.